Hans Urs von Balthasar

You might think your own point of view is the best way to tell your life story. But what about other people? Don’t they have a perspective that also helps tell the full story?

The Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar famously came up with an amazing analogy to think about salvation. Reflecting on human history, Balthasar noticed its incredible drama. Hence he developed his notion of the “theater of the world”: Welttheater in German, or theatrum mundi in Latin, or “global theatre” in my preferred English translation (because of the resonance with Shakespeare).

The idea of the global theatre isn’t original to Balthasar. Greek and Roman classical thought had developed the idea of world history as a “play” in which the gods have assigned various roles to humans. Human history thereby provides a “spectacle for the gods,” who watch and judge their performance.

What Balthasar did was refine this notion of the global theatre in light of what the Bible has to say about God’s interaction with the human race. In five volumes, under the title Theo-Drama, Balthasar engages in theological reflections that use this analogy to deepen our appreciation of the drama of salvation history.

Balthasar shows the fruitfulness of this approach by highlighting how it helps us think about the unique Christian doctrine of the Incarnation. “Theo-drama (as distinct from merely human drama) is only possible where ‘God’, or a ‘God’, or some accredited representative of God, steps onto the stage of life’s play as ‘a person’ in the action, separate from the other characters,” he writes in Volume II.

In the drama of your life, you have a role to play. Just as in our theatrical experience, so too in theology it is important to distinguish the actor from the author and from the director. For example, with regard to the movie Letter to a Priest, people can distinguish the author (C.S. Morrissey) from the director (Clayton Richard Long) and from the actor (Frank Turner, who plays the priest).

To read the full article, visit the B.C. Catholic Paper.

Books on this topic may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

This article originally appeared in The B.C. Catholic Paper.

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